Eminently qualified for the editorship of British Vogue, Edward Enninful will take up the position when current editor Alexandra Shulman leaves in June. Having met him, I would add that he’s a terrific person too. The industrywide goodwill towards him speaks to his character and talent. The New York Times called this “a barrier-breaking choice” and so it is: He’s the first black person to edit the magazine, the first male, the first non-journalist, a former immigrant, he’s gay, has been awarded an OBE, and was the youngest person to be appointed fashion director of an international magazine at eighteen years old; in other words he’s used to fighting against odds and winning. His new role represents a rousing stand for diversity, checking almost every underrepresented box. It’s a landmark decision that states Vogue is finally ready to push the industry forward.
But still all is not well.
Amid pushback that the magazine’s press release placed too much emphasis on the editor’s ethnicity over his professional accomplishments, there are some who are left wondering if it is completely out of line to express dismay that he is not female. Hold your heckles, please.
The new men of Vogue
Not long ago, there was a shiny sorority, the Vogue Quartet of Editrixes, Franca Sozzani, Carine Roitfeld, Anna Wintour and Shulman. Global ambassadors for female chiefdom, they were the powerful public figureheads of Italian, French, American and British Vogue respectively; The Famous Four. After Sozzani passed last December, (incidentally Enninful had a history of collaborating with her, even spearheading her highly successful “Black Issue”), her replacement was a chap, Emanuele Farneti. In 2013, Kullawit Laosuksri became the *very *first ever male in 120 years to take up Vogue editorship when he joined the Thai publication, one of the smaller ones within the 22-member Vogue family. Fresh in this week is the news that the editor of Vogue Arabia, Deena Aljuhani, after launching the magazine only two months ago, has been ousted, and a male, Manuel Arnaut, installed. In a part of the world where women’s dress is so often misunderstood or vilified, one might have assumed a female’s point of view would have been a welcome one for the publication. Instead, Aljuhani said upon her exit, “I refused to compromise when I felt the publisher’s approach conflicted with the values which underpin our readers.”
British Vogue has a primarily female readership (only one-fifth are male). But as Enninful himself notes, “we live in a world of possibility, and my appointment is a testament to this…The world is ever-changing, as are traditional roles of male and female.” But regarding designers and photographers calling the shots, the male gaze has been for decades the dominant one. The rise of designers Phoebe Philo, Claire Waight Keller and Maria Grazia Chiuri has stirred the argument that women should be more visible in the industry’s high profile roles. As the only woman ever to helm the house of Dior, Chiuri’s first collection for Spring 2017 drummed home this point featuring T-shirts printed with the words “We should all be feminists.”
A Hierarchy of “isms”?
We’re aware of the saying “Equal rights for others does not mean less rights for you” but the question arises can all “isms” be addressed equally? Or even at the same time? Is there an order of importance? There are a lot of double standards at work, even in this op-ed, because segmentation is at the root of much of society’s ills. But still and all, it can’t be ignored that male privilege is something women live with daily especially when vying for top jobs. According to a recent study by Glassdoor, in every country examined, men out-earned women, and in the U.S. that works out at men earning a 24.1 percent higher base pay than women, or women earning 79 cents for every dollar earned by a man. According to Fortune.com, in 2016 women held a paltry 4.2 percent of CEO positions in America's 500 biggest companies, which is down from the previous year.
Beyond the zeitgeist
Vogue’s hire might capture the zeitgeist. Anna Wintour herself said, “Edward will undoubtedly shake things up in a way that will be so exciting to watch.” It will hopefully catapult ethnic diversity in fashion imagery forward lightyears. But in an age when print readership is floundering, the cynical onlooker might begin to think that the industry is still reverting to stereotypes, turning to men when things need “fixed,” effectively telling woman the road is bumpy from here on in and she should slide into the passenger seat and let the man drive. And while those still celebrating might not like the cut of my argument, it can always be pushed further.
Instead of a black man, why couldn’t it have been a black woman?
By contributing guest editor Jackie Mallon, who is on the teaching faculty of several NYC fashion programmes and is the author of Silk for the Feed Dogs, a novel set in the international fashion industry.
Images: Edward Enninful, Courtesy of Conde Nast International and British Vogue; Valentino runway Spring 2017, catwalkpictures.com; Carine Roitfeld at Paris Fashion Week Louis Vuitton Show autumn/winter 2014 by Dustin Gaffke, Wikimedia Commons; Franca Sozzani on the 'magenta carpet' at Life Ball 2013, Vienna, by Manfred Werner, Wikimedia Commons